The Court

The Minnesota Court of Appeals I am often asked, “What is the court of appeals?”  I’ll try to provide an overview of this important link in the judicial system. Minnesota has three levels of courts:  the District Courts, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court.  The district courts are located in various cities throughout Minnesota, and are the bedrock of the judiciary.  District courts handle criminal, civil, juvenile, probate and all other cases.  It conducts hearings and trials.  By far, most judicial activity takes place in the district courts. The other two levels comprise the appellate courts.  The first appellate level is the Court of Appeals (COA) and the second is the Supreme Court. District court litigants have a right to appeal from decisions which they believe are erroneous which results in about 2,500 appeals annually to the COA.  The COA does not conduct new trials, but decides whether there was error by the district court and how to remedy such error.  Remedies include a new trial, amending a decision, or directing other corrective action.  Appeals require reading briefs and documents submitted, reviewing the district court file, legal research, hearing oral arguments, making decisions and finally writing the “decision.” There are 19 COA judges, ten represent Minnesota’s judicial districts, and nine are “at large.”  The COA divides itself into rotating three judge panels.  Each panel hears and considers at least six cases per week.  Each judge authors two opinions (decisions) per week.  Judges also review opinions issued by other judges to ensure accuracy.  We also hear motions, participate in judicial administration, supervise staff and maintain a connection with the ten judicial districts in Minnesota.  The work is demanding. The Supreme Court is the highest court in Minnesota.  Litigants can ask the Supreme Court to review COA decisions.  But the Supreme Court selects for review only those cases where the issue involved is very important or where legal precedent is required.  The Supreme Court also automatically reviews all first degree murder cases and hears Tax Court appeals. The Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are located in the Minnesota Judicial Center which is just east of the state capitol.  The COA regularly travels to out-state locations to hear cases.
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